With Thanksgiving behind us and the rest of the holidays still looming ominously, a lot of us can be feeling the family fatigue. This much time with your nearest and dearest can be a little awkward, a little draining, and, sometimes, straight-up toxic. And one of the trickiest parts of dealing with family and friends this time of year is the questions — questions about your job, your plans, your achievements, and, of course, your love life. 

Handling questions about your love life during the holiday season can be irritating or downright traumatic, depending on your family (and the state of your love life). Sometimes, questions come from a well-meaning place and the person drops the subject as soon as they sense you don't want to talk about it, but other times it can be more persistent — and even feel cruel. In either case, preparation is everything. 

The truth is- these questions can affect everyone. Though the stereotype is an aunt or a mother prodding a young woman about why she’s still single, anyone can end up the subject of an interrogation. Whatever your gender, gender preferences or your relationship status, family members looove having themselves some opinions. So here’s how to handle them — because the boundaries are in your hands. 

Learn from past experiences 

Firstly, has this come up before? For a lot of us, it has — and sometimes there are some common triggers. If you have a great aunt who always asks prying questions, try to steer clear. If your cousin has a partner who everyone compares to yours, then try to avoid her as a conversation topic or make an excuse to leave the room when it comes up.

If you know that there’s a tricky situation that seems to come up year after year, do your best to avoid it — it’s not always possible, but it’s worth a shot. 

Know your talking points

Even though it sometimes can feel like you're under attack, it’s important to remember that you are in charge of how much you share about your love life. They can’t force it out of you — they can try (and they probably will), but ultimately they can’t. So, like a shady politician, have your talking points ready.

You might want to say, “I’m really focused on my career at the moment” or “I’m just not sure I’m a relationship person” or “I’m seeing someone, but it’s early days”. Whatever it is, have your talking points and try to change the subject as quickly as possible. People might be a little frustrated they can’t get any juicy gossip, but that frustration normally leads to boredom pretty quickly. 

Set boundaries 

In a perfect world, we’d be able to prepare ourselves, go in with a positive mental attitude, and have everything run smoothly — but sometimes, reality runs away with you. I’ve had plenty of conversations with relatives through which I swore I would keep my cool and rise above it all, until 90 seconds later when I’m shouting about healthcare and have no idea how I ended up there. Sometimes, you may need to take a break. You may need to go for a walk, to lock yourself in your childhood bedroom, or even skip a family event altogether. 

Allow yourself to set those boundaries and know when you need to tap out. It might feel a little dramatic at the time, but I promise it will be less dramatic than a full-out war over the cranberry sauce. 

Be honest when you can 

Look, we don’t always have a frank relationship with our families — sometimes, we just don't think that we can say how we feel. But if you have a family member who you can open up to, take advantage of that. Explain to them that these questions make you feel scrutinized or that you’re just not in the mood to share — or that you’re happy but don’t want to talk about it. If you feel like you can tell the truth, then do it.

Not only will it feel better to have an ally and someone who is a little more understanding, but you might also find that they help you steer the conversation into more comfortable directions when other family members are around. Having someone on your side can make a huge difference.

And lie if you have to 

OK, I’m not normally an advocate of lying. I really hate it. Really, I do. But — but — this is one case where I think it’s totally OK to fib to protect yourself. If you have a family member who loves to pry or needle, feel free to just say “It’s going great, thanks!” and walk off. I don’t care if your love life is a dumpster fire on the verge of combustion — sometimes a little lie can go a long way in terms of self-care. Think of it as a little holiday gift to yourself. Seriously — I won’t judge. 

Some people are happy to open up about their personal lives to their families — and if that works for you, go for it. But a lot of us have more complex (and sometimes toxic) family environments to deal with. Whether they mean to be cruel or just are inadvertently irritating, questions about your love life can feel like a trial. Get through it however you can — and make sure that you set boundaries that protect yourself. Walk away, lie, eat all of the candy out of your nephew’s stocking while sitting on the toilet scrolling Instagram.  It’s your holiday season, so do what you need to do.

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